The weekly market in our local town features a chap who comes up from the South coast with lots of chiller boxes full of fresh fish and seafood. Living as we do in the deep Midlands, good fresh fish can be quite hard to come by – we’re really limited to the fish counters of the local supermarkets, where we prefer not to spend money if we can avoid it, and where we’ve had more than a few disappointing experiences over the years!
Last week, little packs of dressed Selsey crab were up for grabs, so of course I had to buy some. Hubby expressed a desire for crab cakes, so we swung by the little Thai supermarket at the top of town and gathered up the obvious fresh additions – lime, coriander, ginger, and lemon grass. Then, I went to the recipe books to see what I could turn up. (This, you will note, is the wrong way round to chose a recipe and shop for ingredients, but never mind!)
The most promising choice was this one from ‘The River Cottage Fish Book’, a big chunker of a book which I bought for Hubby’s birthday a couple of years back, and which we don’t cook from anything like often enough. I had to make a couple of minor modifications to account for the ingredients I had available, and scale down to serve just the two of us.
To make four fishcakes (serves two) –
- 125g mixed white and brown crab meat (simple scaling of the recipe uses 250g of white crab meat here, but 125g was all I had)
- 50g homemade breadcrumbs (heavy on the sourdough)
- 1 small hot dried home-grown chilli
- 1 large garlic clove
- About half-a-thumb’s worth of fresh ginger (why, for the love of all that is holy, do we measure ginger in ‘fingers’ and ‘thumbs’?)
- 1 stem of fresh lemongrass (if you have any leftover lemongrass, why not propagate it so you can grow your own in the future!)
- 1 tbsp of chopped fresh coriander
- 1 egg (from your own garden hens, ideally!)
- Some extra breadcrumbs for finishing
Finely chop the chilli, ginger, garlic, lemongrass (removing tough, fibrous outer leaves first) and coriander. I used a very sharp chopping knife, and kept going until I’d achieved what was more or less a minced consistency, but if you’re feeling lazy and have one to hand – or you don’t trust your knife skills! – you could definitely use a food processor for the lemongrass and ginger (and possibly the chilli, for that matter) and a press for the garlic. Failing that a pestle and mortar might also do the job!
In a bowl, combine the crab well with the breadcrumbs, and then add the ginger, lemongrass, chilli, garlic and coriander, along with the egg, and mix thoroughly. Season with a little salt, if you like. The mixture should come together as a good ball, if it seems too wet, add a some extra breadcrumbs.
Divide evenly into four parts and form each into a nice round crab cake patty, about 1cm thick. Pop these on a plate in the fridge – covered – for an hour to firm up a little.
After an hour, make a layer of breadcrumbs on a small plate and gently press the crab cakes into them, so that they form a crust on both sides (you could equally use sesame seeds, as the original recipe suggests, if you have these).
To cook, heat a little oil in a frying pan (I chose English cold-pressed rapeseed oil, which I’m using a lot lately, but any neutral flavoured oil which takes heat well will do). You can test whether it’s up to temperature by adding a breadcrumb or two – if they start frying immediately, you’re ready. If the oil is too cold, it will just soak into the breadcrumb coating, which isn’t really the idea.
Fry for about 4 minutes on each side, so that a good crunchy golden brown crust develops. Handle the crab cakes very gently and ideally, leave them alone in the pan for the first 3-4 minutes as they might try to fall apart unless a good crust has formed.
I served these with dressed noodles, and a mixed leaf salad picked from our greenhouse. The dressing for the salad was made with rapeseed oil, lime juice, and a little honey. The noodles were so excellent in their own right that they quite deserve their own blog post!
Doesn’t it make a pretty supper? I do recommend you try these fishcakes, which are really excellent – well balanced, aromatic flavours, with a good solid chilli kick (obviously this will vary depending on the viciousness of your chillies – mine were home-grown last year, and dried, variety ‘Twilight’, which are seriously hot little blighters!). The crab flavour comes through really clearly, despite the reduced quantity – personally I find the brown crab meat adds a lovely rich flavour, and there’s enough of the white meat there for the texture to be appreciable. There’s a lovely crunch from the breadcrumbs, offsetting the soft but not at all pappy interior.
One criticism, which was essentially irrelevant because of the flavours in the noodle dressing, is that they lack the citrus / lime / kaffir lime leaf flavour and aroma that I would expect in a Thai crab cake. This is easily explained, I think – the recipe as presented in the book is ‘Spicy crab cakes with citrus salsa’ – I didn’t make the salsa because I hadn’t got the ingredients (one of the consequences of shopping first, and choosing recipes second!). In any case, while the combination looks like it would make a fabulous starter, it wasn’t really what I had in mind for supper, but I think the citrus deficit would be more than counteracted if you served it as suggested! Regardless, when I make these again, I would include some lime zest in the crab cake mix and serve them with a wedge of lime to squeeze over.
The River Cottage Fish Book, by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Nick Fisher
Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, 2007 (2nd edition published 2011)
Soft cover, 604 pages, full colour. RRP £20.
[Full disclosure: This is my husband’s book, which I bought him as a birthday gift. I have received no payment or sponsorship for this post, nor have I accepted a review copy. I do not have an amazon affiliate account and do not profit from any links provided.]
This is, as I mentioned earlier, a bit of a doorstop of a book, weighing in at over 600 pages. It’s a pretty comprehensive guide to catching (or buying), storing, preparing, cooking and eating fish and shellfish, along with the usual (and important!) River Cottage message about sustainability. The back 1/3rd of the book is set aside to a natural history of british fresh and saltwater fish and shellfish, which I really must sit down and read properly one day.
I’ve cooked a couple of times from this book recently (the crab linguine is also very good, and almost pipped the crab cakes to the post for the recipe to write up today) and the quality is consistently good.
There are recipes for all sorts of cooking techniques – including a good variety of open fire and BBQ options – as well as more exotic options including sashimi, curing, smoking, and pickling. I look forward to a time when we’ll be closer to the coast so that I can easily get my hands on a wider variety of really fresh sea food, and when that day comes, I can see this book being promoted from occasional use to being one of our kitchen regulars!
‘Cooking the Books’ is my self-imposed blog challenge for 2014 – I’ll be trying to cook a new recipe from one of my (rather extensive!) collection of cookbooks once a week, write it up and review it. Wish me luck!
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